oranges have minerals

What Are Minerals in Food? Benefits, Sources & Why We Need Them


Vitamins and minerals are as essential for living just as much as air and water. 

Not only do they keep your body healthy and functional, they protect you from a variety of diseases.

Vitamins and minerals get thrown together, but they are quite different. 

Vitamins are organic substances produced by plants or animals. 

They often are called "essential" because they are not synthesized in the body (except for vitamin D) and therefore must come from food.

Minerals are inorganic elements that originate from rocks, soil, or water. However, you can absorb them indirectly from the environment or an animal that has eaten a particular plant.

Minerals are elements that are found in the earth and food and are essential to life. 

For example, minerals are needed for heart and brain function, as well as the production of hormones and enzymes.

Your body needs certain minerals to build strong bones and teeth and turn the food you eat into energy.

As with vitamins, a healthy balanced diet should provide all the minerals your body needs to work properly.

Minerals are vital to your health, and maintaining optimal mineral levels is essential to feeling your best. Yet, many people don’t get enough minerals in their diet.

Still, it’s easy to increase your mineral intake, as many foods, including the nutritious foods listed above, are packed with a variety of minerals.

The body needs many minerals; these are called essential minerals.

 There are 17 minerals that the body needs.

Essential minerals are sometimes divided into major minerals (macrominerals) and trace minerals (microminerals). 

These two groups of minerals are equally important, but trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts than major minerals

The amounts needed in the body are not an indication of their importance.

Minerals are divided into two categories based on how much the human body needs.

Macrominerals are needed in larger amounts and include calcium, potassium, sodium, chloride, phosphorus, and magnesium

Although equally important, trace minerals, including iron, copper, fluoride, selenium, zinc, chromium, molybdenum, iodine, and manganese, are needed in smaller amounts

We need these nutrients for muscular movement, nerve signaling, cardiovascular functions, growth, development, and more.

For example you need Foods High in Magnesium and Potassium for Healthy Blood Pressure

Magnesium is vital for managing nerve and muscle function, regulating blood pressure and blood sugar, and making protein and DNA.

Potassium helps contract muscles, relax blood vessels, keep the heart and kidneys healthy and support cell function.

Cobalt in food contributes to the proper synthesis of red blood cells, ensuring elevated nervous system activity, breakdown of sugars and energy metabolism, preserving thyroid hormone regulation, as well as guaranteeing optimal iron absorption by cells.

As you can see from the small examples above minerals are really important.

Minerals maintain our overall health by performing jobs such as:

  • Creating enzymes that help with digestion, energy production and metabolic processes
  • Facilitating nerve transmissions
  • Allowing for muscle contractions, muscle relaxation and movement
  • Regulating fluid balance, which helps prevent swelling and edema
  • Maintaining normal blood pressure levels
  • Carrying oxygen throughout the body
  • Maintaining normal bone density and teeth strength
  • Facilitating blood clotting
  • Producing stomach acid and other digestive “juices”
  • Supporting growth and development in babies and children
  • Healing wounds and damaged tissues
  • Facilitating thyroid function
  • Maintaining a normal acid-base balance (pH level)

Below are some of the roles and benefits that different essential minerals have in the human body:

  • Calcium — Important for maintaining a healthy skeletal structure, bones, and teeth; helps muscles relax and contract; important in nerve functioning, blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, immune system health and metabolic functions.
  • Magnesium — Assists in enzymatic reactions, helps with the synthesis of DNA; found in bones; needed for making proteins and for muscle contractions, nerve transmission, and immune system health.
  • Potassium — Helps with fluid balance, nerve transmissions, muscle contractions, and normal blood pressure. Also helps prevent heart arrhythmia and swelling and reduces the risk of hypertension and stroke.
  • Sodium — Needed to maintain fluid balance and counteract potassium, supports nerve transmissions, and assist in muscle contractions.
  • Phosphorus — Important for healthy bones and teeth; found in every cell; part of the system that maintains acid-base balance; helps nerves function and makes muscles contract.
  • Chloride — Works with sodium to help balance fluids and assists in digestion by producing stomach acid needed to maintain a normal pH level.
  • Iodine — Needed to produce thyroid hormones; supports metabolic reactions; helps with development; facilitates normal brain development and cognitive functions.
  • Iron — Helps form hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood; prevents anemia; assists in development; helps make amino acids, collagen, neurotransmitters, and certain hormones.
  • Zinc —Aids in cell division, immune function, skin health and wound healing.
  • Copper — Supports metabolic functions; facilitates iron uptake in the GI tract; fights free radical damage; helps with neurotransmitter production.
  • Manganese — Helps with the breakdown of protein, carbohydrates, and cholesterol; aids in cell division; facilitates blood clotting.
  • Selenium — Maintains normal thyroid hormone production; assists in metabolism and DNA synthesis; protects against oxidative damage; supports the immune system in fighting infections; needed for healthy fertility, especially in men since it promotes sperm health.
  • Sulfur — Supports the immune system in fighting infections; has natural antibacterial properties; helps repair DNA damage.

What are minerals in food?

Minerals can be found in a variety of foods, but some foods are especially abundant in these important nutrients.

A balanced diet usually provides all of the essential minerals. 

Within a so-called “balanced diet” you’ll find macronutrients and micronutrients, which are essential nutrients we must get from food sources because our bodies cannot make them on their own. 

The three main macronutrients are fats, carbohydrates, and protein, while micronutrients include vital vitamins and minerals.

We need minerals to help us do three main things:

  • build strong teeth and bones
  • control body fluids inside and outside cells
  • turn the food we eat into energy.

What foods contain minerals?

Minerals are found in foods like cereals, bread, meat, fish, milk, dairy, nuts, fruit (especially dried fruit) and vegetables.

Here are some examples of mineral food sources to emphasize in your diet:

  • Magnesium — avocado, bananas, potatoes, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, leafy greens, artichokes, whole grains, beans and legumes, dark chocolate, and some fish.
  • Sodium — sea salt, pickled/fermented foods like sauerkraut and pickles, cottage cheese and other cheeses, olives, canned and preserved foods, soy sauce, milk, breads, and unprocessed meats (in small amounts, as processed foods contain the most added sodium).
  • Potassium — bananas, sweet potatoes, spinach, lentils, orange juice, most beans, peas, beets, dried fruit like dates, and coffee.
  • Calcium — yogurt, kefir, raw milk, cheese, canned sardines, leafy greens like mustard greens or kale, broccoli, cashews, almonds, fortified tofu and fortified soy milk, parsley, and legumes.
  • Phosphorus — meat like beef, fish, chicken, turkey, dairy, seeds like pumpkin and sunflower seeds, legumes like lentils.
  • Iron — organ meats like chicken or beef liver, red meats, fish, poultry, clams, egg yolks, legumes, dried fruits like raisins, and dark leafy greens.
  • Zinc — meats like beef, organ meats like liver, fish, and poultry, and some vegetables like mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, wheat germ, garlic, oats, rice, and corn.
  • Iodine — seafood and fish like cod and tuna, some algae/seaweeds and sea vegetables, shellfish, iodized salt, fortified breads, and some dairy products.
  • Selenium — Brazil nuts, fish, and seafood like tuna, organ meats, beef, turkey, chicken, eggs, oatmeal, milk, lentils, cashews, and oats.
  • Chloride — table salt, soy sauce, seaweed, olives, breads, celery, tomatoes.
  • Copper — shellfish, organ meats, spirulina, mushrooms, dark chocolate, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, wheat bran.
  • Sulfur — foods rich in protein including meats like beef, poultry, fish, soybeans, black beans and kidney beans, eggs, milk, and nuts.
  • Manganese — Whole grains, shellfish, nuts, soybeans and other legumes, rice, leafy vegetables, coffee, and tea.